I am listening to Willie Nelson and enjoying him a good deal. Willie’s unmistakable voice–warm and full of feeling yet rational and sure–is calm and energizing.
Calm and energy are two qualities I am in need of this winter. I am depressed. Or so I think.
Oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever been depressed before. At least not like this.
Those who know me might find this admission odd. Typically, I am active and upbeat. Someone generally balanced, at least when it comes to extroversion and introversion, good moods and bad. I weather storms (and they can be fierce), but survive and emerge. I learn from my mistakes, and move on–feeling richer and fuller for having done so.
I am told that I am, like most writers, “in touch with my feelings”. I tend toward intensity (an understatement according to my spouse), am verbal and expressive (overly so sometimes), mentally agile and quick (sometimes so I long to switch my brain to off), playful and demonstrative, and comfortable exploring all shades of feeling and thought–in both others and myself.
There is little I am drawn to more–other than writing–than listening to, and learning about, others. It was not for nothing that my earliest professional ambitions lay in psychology.
I’ve had the good fortune to have lived, thus far, a varied, rich, and open life. I’ve known satisfaction and joy, and I’ve been handed heaping platefuls of loss, grinding frustration, and bedeviling challenges.
I am well acquainted with sadness, grief, anger, and anxiety. But depression?
No, I’m not spending days in bed, unable to get up. I haven’t stopped eating or bathing or washing my hair. Or started compulsively over-eating, or washing my hands so often they bleed. I do laugh (not as often as I used to). I enjoy spending time with friends. I am not at the brink of taking my life.
So, on the outside, I guess I look normal. Or some facsimile of normal.
But life feels strangely joyless too often, as if it’s in grayscale and I’m somehow not fully in it, but on the outside of its richness and sap, wondering when I’ll again tap into that. And I find myself teary too often, plagued with fatigue and a gnawing sense of loss.
Surely politics are playing a role in this. How not? Isn’t the entire country anxious and unhappy at this point?
And surely the pile-up of difficulties among family and friends is really quite extraordinary. I will not detail the particulars; it’s enough to share that the issues are serious, and range from medical to financial to legal to professional to relational. And that I have been beset with worry and concern about loved ones for many months now.
Did I leave anything out?
Let’s be honest, writers, writing is a double-edged sword. A very sharp, double-edged sword.
It is my joy, and sometimes my bane. When we write poorly, we are miserable. When we are happy with our writing, we float. When our writing is ignored, dismissed, criticized, or rejected, our misery returns, more deeply than before.
I am currently sitting on close to a dozen manuscripts (short fiction and poetry) that are ready to be submitted. Some for the first time, some for the umpteenth time.
Last summer I thought, this fall I will again tackle submissions without fail. I did not. I wrote some melancholy poems (most of which I happen to like a good deal).
This past holiday season I thought, when “all this” settles down, I will launch into submissions fully.
I have not. Not yet.
It’s tempting to lapse at this point into moody ruminations on the submission process and the challenges of rejection. But I’ve shared those thoughts before; we’ve been there, done that.
No, upon reflection, and after more difficult events transpired since first attempting to write this post, a couple things have become clear.
First, it’s clear to me that I have been avoiding writing. That I am not writing with the same regularity I normally bring to my practice.
This, of course, is vexing as writing–the very act of writing–I experience, as most writers do, as healing and liberating. Being down is not the time to give up one’s writing!
And, it’s clear that I haven’t fully known why I have not been writing. Yes, my time and energy in recent months has been truncated; much of my focus has been elsewhere. Definitely not good for writing production.
And yes, doing submissions is tedious and time-consuming for most of us. So submitting at a time like this does not make much sense.
But, what about writing itself?
Journaling, blogging, tackling a new story, revising old ones, revising old poems, creating new ones…? Why would that fall by the wayside? Especially at a challenging time when the act of writing itself is healing?
Last fall, when I allowed something within to relax and myself to write about what was really going on–within my mind and heart, what was bearing on me daily, pressing on my spirit and energy–poems came close to writing themselves.
Mulling this over recently led to insight. We can burble on all day and all night–and we writers can burble with the best–about the importance of writing to our emotional health, to even our sanity. About how our writing seems to arise out of both our emotional wellbeing, and also acts to protect and enhance it. To the vital role our writing plays in our lives.
But if we cannot allow–if we resist allowing–our writing to shift and change in accordance with our present inner needs for expression, our words will grow stale to our ears, and even the act of writing will simply not seem as relevant as it did before.
My writing didn’t let me down–as I exclaimed one day in frustration not so long ago. I let my writing down by resisting the hard and painful subjects that I need to write about.
When we allow ourselves to shift in what we are willing to write about–when we follow the path our inclinations, instincts, and felt needs point to–a number of good things follow.
First, our energy for our writing–its pull on our attention–skyrockets. We suddenly want to write again, and cannot wait to sit down at the keyboard, or with pen and paper.
Next, our writing flourishes. Our productivity picks up, pages accumulate, and we begin again, with great relief, to “feel like a writer”.
Finally, our writing improves. It deepens, grows more relevant, and takes risks. We might not be sure if others will like it, but we like it–very much so. It speaks to us and rings true.
We might find ourselves keeping it to ourselves, holding it to our chests tightly, wondering whether, when, and with whom we will be willing to share this new writing. But this, one suspects, is only a passing phase, and that with time we’ll find the time and place within which to share this writing.
The key thing is that we are writing again. What some call writing blocks–what I call dry spells in my writing–are not so much, as I used to think, avoidances that arise out of fear or discouragement. They arise out of irrelevancy.
External events in our lives remind us relentlessly that change, as all good Buddhists know, is constant and inevitable in our lives. What we writers sometimes lose sight of is that, oddly, or so it might seem at first, change is also a constant in our writing.
If our writing fails to keep step with our internal needs for expression and exploration, it will cease to draw, interest, or soothe us, and will rapidly fall into irrelevancy.
To keep our writing vital and in tune with who we are–right now–we must be willing, despite this feeling threatening or disorienting, to allow it to grow and evolve.